Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

Yesterday, New Year’s Eve was our wedding anniversary. Thirty-five years ago, it was very romantic to be married on New Year’s Eve. Later, as our children came along, we realised that our choice wasn’t exactly practical – although at the time, we needed to be married during the school summer holidays and my mum wanted to get Christmas out of the way first and if we wanted to leave time for a honeymoon, there weren’t too many options…

However, New Year’s Eve is a very difficult night to get babysitters – especially as we have spent almost all our married life living away from extended family, so there were many years when we didn't go out for our anniversary. But we never forget it, so that's a good thing!!!

It feels fitting to pause at the end of the year to reflect on the many blessings we’ve had in our marriage. I am so lucky, but I won't gush about that here.

And then, of course, there are New Year’s Resolutions, but they never seem to work for me. They remind me of the ‘turning over a new leaf’ ceremonies I used to conduct in my parents’ garden when I was a child – yes, I would literally turn over a leaf and bury it and fervently hope for vast improvements (in mathematics and keeping out of trouble)… week after week.

But, call me stubborn, I still have a list of 'Barb improvements' I'd like to see come into fruition this year. One can always hope!!

Thank you for reading my books in 2006 and I hope 2007 brings you all health, happiness and lots of wonderful books to read.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Holiday movies

One of the greaat things about being back in the city is that there are so many movies to see. I lurve the big screen.

Went to see Casino Royale yesterday. Must admit I had my fingers crossed that I’d enjoy it. Non-stop, over the top action and emotionless, casual sex don’t usually do it for me…

Well, wasn’t I in for a pleasant surprise? Surprise #1 was Daniel Craig who played James Bond. Oh, boy, isn't he gorgeous? What a body!

And those eyes! I think it was very clever of the director to choose a blonde, blue eyed man for the part. Never once was I tempted to compare Daniel Craig with Sean Connery. He was stand alone fabulous!!

The action was definitely OTT, but so clever and visually breathtaking (and at times amusing) that I wasn’t bored for a moment.

And the ‘romance’ wasn’t emotionless or casual. Not by a long shot. In fact, I was totally captivated by the emotional dilemma of James and Vesper. The scriptwriters have come up with a clever, riveting remake of this jaded story and the acting was superb!

I could watch it again for the romance alone. Loved it!!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Happy Christmas...

It's Christmas Eve here in North Queensland -- hot and steamy. Outside the trees are covered in summer flowers -- the flaring red of poinciana, the fresh white and pink of frangipani, the glorious shower of yellow on the cassia tree. There's the possibility of rain, but at least no cyclones hovering off the coast.

In the past, for many Christmases, we have "gone tropical" with seafood and salads and a pudding made with nuts and fruit, grog and icecream. But in recent years, we've had a traditional turkey on Christmas Eve (in airconditioning!) and that's what we're doing this evening.
The stuffing's made, the presents wrapped and the rum balls are rummy and Elliot's going for a swim to cool off.

Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you peace and joy and plenty of good books to read in the New Year.

Love from,

Warmest wishes from Lilly and me. Isn't she growing faster than grass in the wet season?

Monday, December 18, 2006

There's something about angels...

Do you have any Christmas traditions? I was reading yesterday in Duo, a local mag, about some of the traditions of Townsville families and they sounded so interesting they made me feel quite unimaginative. One tradition that made me smile was a woman who always bought her family (every year) new pyjamas to wake up in on Christmas morning.

My tradition is angels. It started one year when I was still teaching, when a very special student gave me an angel ornament as an end of year gift. Instead of hanging it on the tree, I set it on my sideboard and the next year I bought myself another to stand beside it. From then on, I’ve acquired a new angel each year to add to my collection. I’ve been lucky enough to travel overseas, so I also have an angel from New York, and one – perhaps the most simple, but possibly my favourite – from Assisi in Italy.

When one of my daughters was still dancing professionally and had money, she brought me back the most elegant and exquisite angel from Paris. Some friends think I should have her on display all year round, but I like to save her (him?) for Christmas. It helps to add to that special-ness of this time of year.

This year, the same daughter, who is now a poverty stricken university student, made me an angel and she’s wonderful. She flies with wicked delight beneath our wooden set of galahs.

Speaking of angels, during the Townsville Writing Festival, I had the great privilege of meeting New Zealand author Elizabeth Knox, author of “The Vintner’s Luck”. Two friends, whose reading habits I highly respect (one a university lecturer and the other a librarian), told me this is THE BEST BOOK they have ever read, the kind of book that when you’ve finished you want to start all over again. It’s about a relationship between a French farmer and an angel. And Elizabeth wrote in my precious, autographed copy : “this is a romance, too”.

Description: ‘The book is set in 1808 in Burgundy, France. Among the lush vines of his family's vineyard, Jodeau, 18 years old and frustrated in love, is about to come face to face with a celestial being. But this is no sentimental "Touched by an Angel" seraph; as imagined by Elizabeth Knox in her wildly evocative and original novel, Xas is equipped with a glorious pair of wings ("pure sinew and bone under a cushion of feathers") and an appetite for earthly pleasures--wine, books, gardening, conversation, and, eventually, carnal love.’

At the festival, Elizabeth told us that The Vintner’s Luck is being considered for a movie by the same director who’s filming The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffennegger – a book I adored.

I have to confess that I still haven’t read The Vintner’s Luck. Somehow it slipped behind my TBR pile and slipped my memory, but I’ve decided I must, must read it while my angels are out!!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Kookaburra Wars...

Kookaburra Wars…

Who had the last laugh?

Just as we were getting ready to leave Tarzali yesterday morning, we saw the most amazing spectacle. War between kookaburras.

It was the huge burst of laughter that alerted me first. We regularly hear the laughter of kookaburras and there are several who sit on one particular branch of a tree in the corner of our block. But this laughter (or cry) had an unmistakable element of aggression or alarm.

I looked out to see a kookaburra sweeping up the cutting and into our big camphor laurel tree. Then suddenly it was flying out, chased by another kookaburra. They flew together, zooming and diving and looping high, clearly aggressive, not unlike a WW2 dogfight between a British Spitfire pilot and a Messerschmitt.

One bird would fly away and then another would swoop in from another direction and receive a similar reception. This seemed to be territorial warfare between two kookaburra pairs. And it went on for a good ten minutes and was very noisy and involved quite spectacular flying.

Later, when the ostracised pair accepted their lot, one of “our” kookaburras swooped down and caught a cricket in the grass and I swear that it saw that insect in the grass from at least 150 metres away. Their eyesight must be incredible!

Well, now we’re back in the city and had our traditional home-coming Thai takeaway last night. It’s hot down here on the coast, so of course the airconditioner’s on. Thank heavens it works, as it seems the dishwasher has broken while under our No #4 offspring’s supervision. And I have Broadband again. Internet bliss! I might be able to get better sidebars and links on this blog now.

Now, time to take a deep breath and get ready for Christmas.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Our time in the country is nearly over...

We’re packing up to go back to the city today. We’ve stayed on longer than we intended, while Elliot finished his faithful restoration of two sets of windows and shutters that we’d bought in a demolition yard in Townsville. He’s done an absolutely fabulous job and they’re going to look just stunning in our extensions here.

These shutters above will close in one end of our veranda and will be part of our new dining room. Another set (shutters painted off white and with gold and green glass) will close in the weather end of our new veranda.

He’s restored all the windows and doors we’ll be using – a huge effort, but not only has his work saved us buckets of money, but the results going to look lovely and in keeping with the “cottagey” look that we wanted.

These past six weeks are the longest span of time we’ve spent here and it’s been just wonderful. We’ve made lots of new friends and caught up with old ones who have moved up here and our social life has rocked! And then, of course, there’s the sheer beauty of this place and all the animals and birds and insects and trees that we’ll miss.

But I’m quite looking forward to seeing Townsville family and friends and of course, there’s all the excitement of getting ready for Christmas. I haven’t sent out Christmas cards yet! And I can’t wait to unpack our tree and ornaments.

My book is two-thirds done and I’m happy with it – I like my characters and the tone. My editor suggested a pregnancy in the outback story – and honestly, that is completely my cup of tea, so I’m having a ball, especially now that I can write at my customary pace of about a thousand words a day, five days a week – with plenty of room for real life as well.

It’s been raining during the past week – very lucky for the latest lot of trees and shrubs we’ve planted. By contrast they’re having terrible bushfires in Tasmania. I’m worried about 2paw, who lives down there. I hope she’s OK.

On the reading front, I’m reading Georgette Heyer’s “Frederica”. I bought it at a second hand stall at the Mareeba markets and this is only the second GH I’ve read. I know, I know, how can I hold my head up and call myself a romance writer when I haven’t read Georgette Heyer?

My author mates have been telling me for years I must read her. They’re appalled that I haven’t and jealous too, because I still have all that reading pleasure ahead of me. I’m certainly loving Frederica and I’m learning a lot about writing romance from her too. So perhaps this is the right time for me to read her. I’m ripe for a brand new source of inspiration! I plan to push on and read all her books. And I look forward to a great leap forward in my own writing!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Christmas shopping

I've done it!

And I've also discovered the secret to speedy, efficient, fun Christmas shopping.

What is it? I hear you ask eagerly. Make a list? Well, I'm sure that's helpful, but no, I didn't have a list. Shop online? Well, perhaps. I must admit I did buy one item on line and it was such fun and so easy, I think I should try that more often in the future. But no, my secret is...

...take a man shopping with you!!!

I'll tell you how it worked for me.

Yesterday, we went to Cairns. First, I have to admit to the strangest feeling of country bumpkin-ness after living on our quiet little hillside for six weeks. All those cars and buildings and two legged animals!!!

We bought floor tiles for our extension -- terra cotta to match what's already here and to match the red mud!

And then we headed for Cairns Central, which is a fabulous two storey shopping mall, much bigger and better than anything we have in Townsville (Cairns being such a tourist-centred place, has every conveniency).

Now... shopping. I have four children and their assorted spouses/ partners; three grandchildren, sisters, and a mother, plus the odd friend to buy for, so it's always quite a business. But I have never before done my Christmas shopping with my husband!

This is how it went. As soon as I walked in, I saw a lovely, red and white trousers and top set, that I thought would be perfect for Christmas Day.

Normally, I would think how nice it was and walk on.
"Try it on," says Elliot.
Sensing his enthusiasm, the saleswoman came over and the two of them became a cheer squad. Before I knew I had this perfect Christmas outfit wrapped in tissue and "in the bag"!

It was already late morning, because we'd had business in Atherton on the way, so I was anxious to push on with shopping for others. But Elliot insisted we have lunch first. A cup of tea and a toasted sandwich would be my normal shopping lunch. But no, we had to go to Toscas, where I had soup and Elliot had fajitas, which were rather yum.

But what about the shopping?

I could see myself arriving home with no presents and the daunting task of another shopping session when I got back to Townsville. But then Elliot really came into his own. As I began to wander in my usual daze, I'd say, "I think so and so might like ... and I'd drift towards a shop, stand in front of a dazzling array, touch one item...
And Elliot would step forward. "Get it," he'd say. "It's perfect!"
And suddenly, I'd look at this iten with renenwed interest and realise that yes, it was perfect. So and so would love it!

You will realise that I'm rather dim-witted. This happened half a dozen times before I cottoned on that it was a deliberate ploy of my husband's. Every time I looked at a promising possibility, I would hear: "Get it! It's perfect for X!"

It worked!!

Within two hours, we were both laden with shopping bags and feeling just a tad like like Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in "Pretty Woman" -- except that only two items were clothes for us and the rest were wonderful Christmas presents.

Of course, I now have to hope that the recipients of theses gifts really do like them, but I think they will. And I slept so well last night, secure in the knowledge that this huge task was behind me.

But you've no idea how lovely it was to drive away from the coast, up over the mountains to our quiet green Tableland.

We also called in at a nursery and bought 8 trees on the way home and planted them all as soon as we got back.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The saga of the steps

OK, so is this writing related? I fear not -- although there was a book called The Thirty Nine Steps with a lead character called Richard Hannay ...

But when we first bought a little patch on a hillside in the country, we went back to our city apartment and hurried straight to the library to take out books about gardening and landscaping -- and amongst these was a book about making drystone steps and walls. We immediately fell in love with the idea and Elliot raced out and bought some of the necessary tools almost before we got anything else -- even a spade!!.

I have always admired the work of Edna Walling who was a famous Australian landscape designer.

She was very fond of cottages with leafy natural gardens. Her designs nearly always involved the use of stone in walls and steps and paths.

This is an example of one of her walls softened by greenery on the right.

Anyhow... inspired by Edna, Elliot and I have been transforming our shed into a cottage and a couple of weeks ago, we finally gave in to the urge to make some dry stone steps. So here are some pics to show you how we went about it.

The picture above is of Elliot digging out the site. I was very impressed by how professional he was, using stakes and string to mark the area!

I was foreman and chief photographer -- which meant I worked out which stones went where, I carried them to the site and shovelled the sand that was used to build them and generally bossed poor Elliot around.

We erected a tarp to keep the site shady while we worked.

The steps in context -- here you see where they fit into the general scheme of things here -- part of a bank that I hope will one day be covered with interesting plants -- and that gorgeous view in the background.

The final product, which will look so much better when the banks on either side are planted up and there's greenery to soften the stones.

We christened the steps last evening by sitting on them and having a glass of wine while we watched the sunset.

I promise I was writing in between step building!!!